Browning GP Sporter
Michael Yardley tests the Browning GP Sporter - a clay shooting design classic
Browning need no introduction; they are one of the worlds most successful gun makers, their products are exceptionally consistent and have gained an excellent reputation because of it. Browning still make shotguns ‘on the bench’ in their Custom Shop at Herstal in Belgium, and military weapons by high tech methods nearby, but, much of the modern shotgun production is in Japan by B.C.Miroku. The test gun - a GP Sporter - is one of these. It is based on a modified version of the famous B25 style action - the last gun that John Moses Browning designed.
Without getting too complicated, the big difference between most Japanese made Brownings and the more expensive bespoke guns still made in Belgium, is that the latter have a forend which stays attached to the barrels when the gun is disassembled. The Belgian guns have a more complex forend attachment system, moreover, and, they tend to have lighter barrels and hand engraving by named masters. The lighter barrels give them a distinctly different feel to the Japanese guns. Note that I did not say better, just different (though my honest preference is for the faster handling, significantly more expensive, Belgian guns, the 32” 206 being a particular favourite for sporting use).
Since Brownings first came along in the 1920s and 1930s, there have been a lot of imitators and a lot of firms trying to get in on the ‘over and under’ mass market. Beretta, who started their SO’s as near imitations of Boss guns in the early 1930s, have been enormously successful on many fronts. Their 55 series and 68 series guns (the latter a development of the former) have been hugely popular with punters and have now evolved into a classic. But, the B25 was a classic first and remains a classic to this day (although it does not sell in the same numbers as the all conquering Beretta).
Comparison between Browning and Beretta
The Browning and Beretta are very different guns and it is worth considering the difference before progressing with our test. Modern versions of both guns use coil springs to power their hammers and have - in later form at least - a combined thumb safety and barrel selector positioned on the top strap. The Browning has lumps positioned beneath the barrel and a full width hinge pin (so it has a higher action profile); the Beretta, copying the Boss and Woodward “bifurcated” system, has its lumps either side of the chambers, machined into the breech metal. Moreover, like the Woodward, the barrels of the Beretta pivot on stud pins located in the action walls near the knuckle.
The bolting systems of the Browning and Beretta are quite different too. The former has a wide, flat bolt which engages slot bites beneath the bottom chamber mouth (copied in the Winchester 101 and other simplified versions of the basic B25 design like the Nikko), whilst the Beretta has conical bolts which emerge from the breech face as the gun is closed and locate in small sockets to either side of the top chamber.
Which system is better - you can’t call it! Both designs have their champions. Indeed, we might note that both have their World Champions. For what it is worth I have found that Brownings suit big men especially well - their grip shape is hand filling thanks to the greater distance between the top and bottom strap, and the heft of the Browning 30” and 32” clay busters seem to suit those of larger frame. I might also comment in a slightly different vein that I find the Browning action most appealing in its lower profile, 20 bore form. Whether in 12 or 20 though, the Browning is a classic gun.
The test gun
All of which brings us to our test specimen, a 30” barrelled Browning GP Sporter. The GP stands for Grand Prix, and there were shooting Grand Prix and their attendant circuses long before the age of the motor car… not a lot of people know that!
Although the GP is based on the B25 style action, the style and decoration are modernistic. The engraving, such as it may be described, is not quite what I would have chosen, but nor is it likely to offend. The motif looks rather like a 1960s United Nations logo, well, some might say it is racy. At least it is not as bad as the Jetson’s atomic look that once adorned some clay target models. There is a rather nice gold GP logo on the top lever - all in the best possible taste – and, for those more fashion conscious than myself, this might score some points.
Like all Brownings, this gun is very well finished with excellent wood to metal and metal to metal finish in evidence. The gun has some useful features too - back-bored barrels, extended chokes, an adjustable trigger, and, unusually, ejectors that can be switched on or off by means of a key (which acts on the ejector hammers in the forend). The stock is generously proportioned - but in no way clumsy - and has a large, fairly tightly radiused grip. The forend is of Schnabel pattern with a quite pronounced belly. The wood has been stained down, which looks quite good, and is gloss finished (not normally my ideal, but it looks smart here). The stock is well shaped with a comfortable comb and sensible dimensions. The drop at heel is about 2 ¼”, the stock is longer than average (and would suit a tall man well) and, like most Brownings, is not excessively cast. The chequering is excellent too. No great issues in this department.
The back-bored barrels are made on the monobloc system with an almost perfect join between monobloc and back-bored tubes - always a Browning strength. It would be excessively picky to try and fault them. They are chrome lined - which is a significant development - have a medium width, vented sighting rib, and vented joining rib. There is a shallow centre channel in the rib and it is equipped with both front and mid beads (the latter an unnecessary adornment on a sporter in my opinion). The Midas chokes (five supplied - Cyl, 1/4,1/2, 3/4, Full) are impressive. Very well machined and visually distinctive.
This was a solid gun to shoot. The barrels felt quite weighty, but the gun was very steady to shoot. Recoil was not quite as light as I would have expected considering the open bores (18.8mm rather than the usual 18.4mm), but the gun was comfortable in use nevertheless. Good grip and forend shapes offered good purchase and hence good muzzle control. The gun was without any major vices. The trigger pulls were pretty good, although there are limitations relating to the action design. The GP was predictable - a great quality in a serious clay gun. I may have knocked its modernistic action decoration, but even this grew on me. I liked the Midas chokes too. In 30” (as tested) or 32” form, this is a very serious clay busting machine at a not unreasonable price.
My thanks to the Braintree Shooting Ground and to Lyalvale who supplied the HV cartridges used in this test.
|Action Type||Modified B25|
|Barrel||30" (28" and 32" options)|
|Chokes||multi - 5 supplied|
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